In 1781, childless couples of London were given an invitation, to undergo a certain sort of unusual treatment for their unfortunate state. This was to be achieved by spending a night together in the “celestial bed”-after paying upto £500!
The man behind this bizarre device was Dr James Graham, an Edinburgh physician, who had created a fashionable cult of cures using electricity and magnetism.
In 1780, he opened his first “Temple of Health” in the Royal Terrace of the Adelphi. Here he displayed interesting and elaborate electro-magnetic apparatus, and would subject his anxious and gullible patients to muscial therapy and pneumatic chemistry, with the addition of electricity and magnetism. He administered special baths, sat his patients on ‘magnetic thrones’ or gave the mild shocks in an electric chair.
Furthermore, he had marriage guidance materials published, medical lectures delivered by him personally and various medicines like “Electrical Aether” and “Nervous Aetherial Balsam” sold. He performed with the help of a succcesion of Goddesses of health, displayed as models so innately made that they resembled actual physical beings. A later rumor stated that his chief assistant was none other than the young Emma Hamilton (then known as Emy Lyon), who was employed as the goddess Hebe Vestina ( the daughter of Zeus and Hera, Hebe is the Greek goddess of youth). Dressed in scanty robes, she entertained the patients. Dr. Graham’s gigantic porters were nicknamed Gog and Magog, after the Guildhall Giants.
The project was a massive success and Graham became the talk of London, featuring in satirical plays, prints, poems, and newspaper skits. During the 1780s, he was often publicly associated with society figures.
What was the celestial bed actually?
In June 1781, the “Temple of Hymen” was launched in new premises at Schomberg House, with the purpose of being able to house a newly designed and built “Celestial Bed”.
The “wonder-working edifice” was 12 by 9 feet, and was canopied by an ornamental dome decorate with musical automata, fresh fragrant flowers, and a pair of live turtle doves. Inside the dome was a reservoir, that released stimulating oriental fragrances and “aethereal” (meaning light and airy) gases.
about 15 cwt of compound magnets…continually pouring forth in an everlasting circle
-An advertisement put forth by Dr. Graham, about the celestial bed.
The tilting inner frame put couples in the best position to conceive, and every time they moved, it set off music from organ pipes which breathed out “celestial sounds”. The intensity of these sounds increased with the passion of the occupants.
40 glass pillars insulated this electrified and magnetic creation. The bed stood on eight brass pillars. The head of the bed contained a moving clockwork tableau that celebrated Hymen, the god of marriage. Above this arrangement, sparkling with electricity, were the words:
“Be fruitful, multiply and replenish the earth!”
At Schomberg House, Graham gave his Lecture on Generation, where he frankly explained how to conceive (to formulate a plan, not the other meaning!). He saw sex as a patriotic act and procreation as a national duty! Cold water washing of the genitals was recommended as essential to good sexual health, and prostitution and masturbation were lambasted.
Graham gave more discreet marriage guidance in a pamphlet called “A Private Advice.”
There are pointers that imply that the treatment didn’t work. Soon, Dr. Graham ended up getting financially strained. He vacated the Adelphi Temple of Health a year after it was first launched, and focused on trying to recoup his expenses at Schomberg House. Almost three years later, he had sold most of his possessions due to having no other viable option. He returned to Edinburgh, to display the remains of his apparatus in a temporary Temple of Health on South Bridge Street.
Featured header image source: Rose Lerner